Busting Out All Over

Ducklings are hatching out fast and furious. For starters, the Magpie family continues to do well. The ducklings are thriving with their mother, and are noticeably larger. In addition, two other Magpie ducklings suddenly appeared one morning — but they were wandering all over the barnyard without any mother duck to guide them. We assume they wandered off a nest that the mother duck was clinging to, attempting to hatch additional eggs. Anyway, they tried falling in with the other mother Magpie, but couldn’t keep up with her in the high weeds. I rescued them, and they’re now thriving in the brooder with the chicks.

One of the Khaki Campbells has hatched three ducklings, and so far has been taking good care of them. However, Khakis are one of those notorious “production” breeds that has basically had the mothering instinct bred out of them. We’ll watch her closely in the upcoming days, but we may need to put her ducklings into the brooder.

Meanwhile, the Khaki in the hollow tree is in the process of hatching her clutch of eggs. Notice that my presence has made her nervous, and she has puffed up the feathers on her back as a warning (much like a cat does when threatened). Two ducklings are entirely out and getting around nicely, and at least one more egg is half-hatched (I tried to zoom in, but the half-hatched egg isn’t really visible in this shot). We’ll check back with her in the morning.

UPDATE: Thursday morning, she had six ducklings and had led them the entire length of the vineyard to the “watering hole.” About an hour later, she had successfully led the entire brood all the way back to the nest in the tree. Looks like we may have among the rarest birds of all: a Khaki that’s a good mother. We’ll keep checking.

The Chicks Have Landed

The chicks are here! We got a call from the post office at about 7am this morning, and my daughter and I were soon cruising into town to pick up the box of little peepers. She excitedly held the box on her lap all the way home, asking such insightful questions as “Why does it say ‘live chicks’ on the box, Daddy?”

“That’s a good question,” I replied. “They certainly wouldn’t ship a box of dead chicks, would they?”

“So why does it say live? Why not just say ‘chicks’?”

I thought for a moment. “Maybe to remind the post office people how important it is to take good care of them, because they are living things and not just some box of stuff?

“Well…,” she said, gazing through the air holes in the box, as the chicks continued peeping back at her. “Of course people would want to take care of little chicks that are cute like these.”

Indeed. Anyway, we are now the proud owners of 25 Barred Rock pullet chicks (to replace our aging laying flock), 12 mixed gender broiler chicks (wonderful eating in 6-8 weeks), 2 male Silver Leghorn chicks (to replace an absolutely beautiful rooster that was hit by a car a couple of years ago; we got two in case one dies), and the one exotic “mystery” chick that McMurray Hatchery always includes with orders of chicks.

Meanwhile, several deaths later, the turkey poults are doing well. The “dead wood” seems to have been shaken loose, because none have died for a few days now. Hopefully we’ll have clear sailing with them from here.

Putting Goats to Work

The New York Times has a wonderful story about farmers with goats being hired to clear out-of-control kudzu vines in Tennessee.

Chattanooga’s goats have become unofficial city mascots since the Public Works Department decided last year to let them roam a city-owned section of the ridge to nibble the kudzu, the fast-growing vine that throttles the Southern landscape.

The Missionary Ridge goats and the project’s tragicomic turns have created headlines, inspired a folk ballad and invoked more than their share of goat-themed chuckles.


On Missionary Ridge, which bisects Chattanooga and where homes command stunning views of the valley below, the battle with kudzu is constant. Of particular worry for the city were vines that draped over the mouth of the McCallie Tunnel, which cuts through the ridge.

Enter the goats. Mr. Jeansonne, after reading an article on the subject, persuaded city officials to hire a local farmer to graze his herd over the tunnel. When the farmer released the herd last fall, the experiment took some unexpected turns. Pranksters put up “goats working” signs. City officials took them down, with some stern words.

Guard donkeys accompanying the herd earned more guffaws and proved ineffective when dogs attacked, killing two goats and mauling a third. This year, llamas replaced the donkeys.
There have been the logistical problems of goat-proof fences, gawkers and the live electric wire. Mr. Jeansonne himself roped an escapee and hauled it back to the pen.

But the headaches have been worth it, he said. Walking a fence line, he held one hand high to show the height of the kudzu before the herd was released. The vines are gone now from the tunnel and the hillside above, some areas newly planted with grass.

“It was kudzu up to an elephant’s eye,” Mr. Jeansonne said.


The city plans to use goats to clear the tunnel’s east entrance, and recently, officials sponsored a four-day academy for farmers, hoping to stimulate a micro-industry of kudzu-fighting herds-for-hire.

Attention enterprising yeoman farmers! This could be a great business opportunity.

As for us, we’ve had mixed results with getting goats to clear big swaths of brush. They certainly do eat it — but they also eat all the things you don’t want them to eat. That means goats can’t simply be turned loose on a cultivated property. The portable electric fencing would probably help; that’s not something we’ve investigated. (We don’t have any kind of electric fencing on the property, for fear that our small children would get tangled in it.)

Farewell, FDR!

I recently posted about our rural electric co-op, and how they are getting ready to replace some of the power lines and transformers in our area. They’re now almost finished, and I’m surprised they’ve been able to do it without shutting our power off for more than a couple of hours at a time.

The chief manager with the project told us that the infrastructure they’re replacing dates to the 1940s! He’s fairly confident that it went up as part of a New Deal era rural electrification, and that our section of the county did not have electricity before that.

We’ve been quite fortunate that the last few winters have been so mild. With lines and poles this old, one more bad ice storm could’ve taken down quite a bit of our local grid. (Global warming alarmists, take note! There are benefits to rising temperatures!) Anyway, nice that we’ll have one less thing to worry about this winter.

Note the well-established grape vines at the bottom of the picture. This is the first vineyard we planted, the first spring we were here (2002). This is not the one the lambs recently decimated.

Rural multitasking

The primary enclosure for our sheep is a 2-3 acre pasture at the northern end of the property. At the southern end (separated from the pasture by a few outbuildings and other areas) is a sizable grassy meadow, in which we have planted dozens of fruit trees. Those trees are not yet mature, and are still fairly short (i.e. with lots of branches right at sheep level). We’ve protected them as well as possible using chicken wire enclosures, but it’s far from perfect. In other words, as wonderful as that area is for grazing, we can’t turn the sheep loose in there without supervision. Perhaps in a few years the trees will be tall enough, but not now.

I don’t mind supervising them; I’ve set up a plastic chair, and enjoy having a cup of coffee in the morning as I watch them graze. If they get too close to a tree, I walk over and shoo them away. But the kids and I have discovered something even more fun for the late afternoons: they help drive the sheep down from the pasture, and then we all put on baseball mitts and toss a tennis ball around as we supervise the flock. If the sheep get too close to a tree, one of us is usually close enough to drive them away. And then it’s back to playing catch.

Until it’s time to drive them back north, of course. I clap my hands three times and shout “Let’s GO!” The sheep have learned that this is the signal, and they usually begin stampeding back across the property. The kids have great fun chasing the stragglers, and Scooter loves getting out in front of the flock and leading the way.

This is my idea of multitasking.

More on the Magpies

The mother Magpie duck took her brood out for a stroll Sunday morning. The first two hatchlings were keeping up with her fine, but the third kept falling behind. After watching him get disoriented and lost a few times, I took him and put him in the brooder with the turkey poults. At first, they pecked at him and I was a bit concerned. But once he’d dried off, they seemed to welcome him in as one of the gang. We’ll keep him there until he’s mature enough to turn loose.

Meanwhile, Mama Magpie was joined by a Magpie drake (he’s the one with the curly tail feathers), and the two of them have been caring for the ducklings together. He never leaves her side, and chases other birds away when they come too close. It’s very sweet.